The European Commission has asked the EU’s top court to impose a daily financial penalty on Poland for not complying with an order to suspend a key institution in the government-reformed system of disciplining judges, the Commission said on September 7.
The decision elevates the long-lasting spat between Poland and Brussels over Warsaw’s judiciary reforms to a new height, adding to the pile of problems faced by the United Right government, headed by Law and Justice (PiS).
In mid-July, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued an interim order, telling Poland to suspend the so-called Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, a new body established by PiS as a part of the government-devised system of disciplining judges.
The CJEU said that regulations governing the Disciplinary Chamber could not guarantee its independence and impartiality. The works of the chamber must be effectively suspended, the court said, until a final ruling was issued.
Poland responded to the interim order in mid-August by saying that it would reform the chamber, but the Commission said that it had “not taken all the measures necessary to fully comply with the court's order”, including the fact that the Disciplinary Chamber had continued functioning.
“The rulings of the European Court of Justice must be respected across the EU,” Vice-President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova said in a statement.
Poland, which has been playing for time in its disputes with the EU, responded with defiance.
“This decision is another manifestation of the Commission's aggression towards Poland, an attempt to limit our sovereignty, and an attack on the Polish legal order,” Poland’s Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro told a news conference.
“The Commission has no right to interfere with our constitutional order,” Ziobro added.
In August, Ziobro called the EU’s actions over the Polish government’s changes in the judiciary a “hybrid war”.
The government claims that reforming court is necessary to rid the judiciary of any traces left over from the times of Communism as well as make courts more efficient and accessible to Poles.
The government has also used the conflict with the Commission to drum up nationalist and anti-EU rhetoric. The latter has strengthened recently, as the EU keeps hinting that Poland may have problems receiving funding from the bloc’s pandemic recovery funds and the next budget.
Poland stands to receive €36bn in grants and loans from the pandemic recovery fund. The money is the cornerstone of the PiS’ government’s plan for an economic leap forward and one of the key elements of the strategy to win an unprecedented third term in office in the election due in 2023.
In a separate, but related decision, the Commission also sent a letter of formal notice – the first step in infringement proceedings – concerning Poland’s failure to implement another decision by the CJEU, a judgment that Poland’s system of disciplining judges as a whole violates EU law by threatening judges’ impartiality and independence from the government.